It’s hard for me to fathom, but by my count, this installment of Rob’s Car Movie Review marks the 75th iteration of this column.
I would have never thought when I wrote the initial one way back in 2015, that it would turn out to be such a popular and long-running series, but due to your enthusiasm and avid readership, it has proven to be a mainstay of my output for Street Muscle Magazine.
Thank you all, most sincerely, for that.
Given that this is a special occasion, it occurred to me that I should change things up ever so slightly this month. Instead of reviewing a film that was released on the silver screen when it premiered, I thought this month we could have a look at a car movie made for TV, something I haven’t done since the very early days of this series.
With that in mind, allow me to present to you my thoughts on a noir crime thriller produced for the small screen by some heavyweight entertainment industry figures back in 1998: Black Cat Run.
Black Cat Run was a joint production of Citadel Entertainment, Edge City, and Home Box Office, and was first aired on HBO before being released to home video on the DVD format.
The script was penned by no less a personage than Frank Darabont, writer and director of such auspicious projects as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Walking Dead TV series, along with co-writer Douglas Venturelli. Directing the movie was another Hollywood bigwig, D.J. Caruso, helmer of The Salton Sea, Taking Lives, Disturbia, and Eagle Eye amongst other hits.
Starring in the movie is Patrick Muldoon, Amelia Heinle, Jake Busey, Lois Chiles, Peter Greene, and John Doe, frontman from the iconic punk band, X.
The story begins with a chain gang working on the side of a rural Oklahoma road. Malevolent criminal D.J. Wheeler (Greene) and three of his fellow convicts murder the prison guards and stage a daring escape by stealing a passing car.
While passing through a dusty town, the escapees are stopped for speeding by the local Sheriff. Without hesitation, Wheeler murders the lawman and kidnaps his daughter, Sara Jane Bronnel (Heinle), who happened to be riding with her father on his patrol.
Stumbling upon the scene as his girlfriend Sara is being abducted, gas station attendant and part-time stock car driver, Johnny del Grissom (Muldoon), attempts in vain to rescue her.
When the town’s other law enforcement officials, led by Deputy Norm Babbitt (Busey), arrive upon the scene of the murder and kidnapping, they assume that Johnny is the perpetrator, as there was a highly contentious relationship between the Sheriff and him over his affections for Sara.
Johnny has already left the scene by this time and sets out after the kidnappers in a multi-state race to the Mexican border that the convicts hope to cross to freedom and anonymity. Following Johnny the whole way is Babbitt, who is obsessed with apprehending him and locating Sara.
Who will catch who and prevail in their designs hangs in the balance.
With the A-list above-the-line talent on board involved in crafting the film, one would think that Black Cat Run would be a highly original story filled with inventive thrills and chills. Sadly though, that is not the case. The movie borrows heavily from past convicts-on-the-run films, including, but certainly not limited to, 48 Hours, The Fugitive, and The Chase.
What’s more, Black Cat Run is chock full of every trope related to such films, such as the sociopathic villain having a strict code of ethics, someone bringing a knife to a gunfight, and the African-American character dying first. All elements that I was taught to avoid on day one in Screenwriting 101 at film school.
Having said that, while a bit derivative, Black Cat Run is not an awful movie. There are some very good performances, notably by Peter Greene who oozes malignancy at every turn, some well-framed and evocative cinematography by Bing Sokolsky, and very competent sound and picture editing throughout.
And then there’s the cars.
While virtually every vehicle in the film seems to be an enviable vintage one, a trio stands out as the primary picture cars, and are, to say the least, sublime.
The premier vehicle in the move is Johnny’s 1970 Oldsmobile 442 convertible, one of my absolute favorite muscle cars from the golden era, and a fairly rare one to boot, with only 2,933 rolling out of the factory.
The 442 for 1970 was truly an apex predator, representing the all-time pinnacle of performance for Olds. The company’s 455 cubic-inch V8, pushing 365 horsepower and an astonishing 500 lb-ft of torque, was the standard engine in the 442.
An optional W30 package that included a fiberglass hood with functional ram-air scoops, an aluminum intake manifold, a hot cam, and special heads and carb, added five extra ponies to that total. This was enough to propel the big 442 to a 13.7-second quarter mile. Serious performance for the time.
Although it’s not possible to discern if the movie car is an original 442, there are signs that it may have just been a standard Cutlass dressed up to look like the latter, such as the lack of vertical chrome bars in the grille. Despite this, there are quite a few facets of the car that are interesting and deserve some discussion.
Draped in black paint with silver belt line side stripes and a black convertible top, Johnny’s ride is outfitted with a hood borrowed from the 1969 Hurst/Olds 442 featuring the massive, dual-scoop air induction system that was a standout feature of the car.
Other modifications to Johnny’s Olds include a set of Cragar-style, five-spoke, chrome wheels, a full roll cage wrapped in duct tape, and a chrome B&M shifter popping up from the Turbo Hydramatic three-speed that lurks under the floor. The biggest mod though is a nitrous system, which Johnny uses to good effect in one high-speed sequence.
Sadly, as with many movie and TV production vehicles, the 442 is not treated kindly, and ends up in a ditch at one point after spinning out on a dirt road.
Another car featured in the film is the bad guys’ 1972 Chevelle. The second car they use in their run to the border (the first is a ’72 Cadillac Sedan de Ville), this Chevy is a plain Jane number, devoid of stripes or other Chevy-style histrionics, and is dressed in Cranberry Red with a set of aftermarket wheels.
By the sound of it, the Chevelle is likely packing a 350 or perhaps a 396.
The Chevy partakes in the ultimate car chase in the film, as well as a game of chicken between Wheeler and Johnny, which is a well-shot and exciting scene.
While I’m sure you’d join me in wishing that the Chevelle was the iconic 1970 model with a big block, the ’72 in the movie is still pretty cool.
The final car that figures prominently in Black Cat Run is Deputy Babbitt’s car, a 1971 Charger. Painted in B1 Powder Blue with a black vinyl top, the big Dodge makes its appearance at the very beginning of the film. It’s a memorable scene, in which a drunken Babbitt hangs out the passenger window, celebrating and spraying beer after winning a stock car race.
Other cool rides in the movie include Sara’s Skylight Blue ’65 Mustang ragtop, the aforementioned Sedan de Ville, and a 1951 Studebaker Champion.
With all the talent onboard Black Cat Run, from the director to the writers and actors, I was expecting the film to be something beyond the norm for this genre. It unfortunately isn’t, but that doesn’t mean the picture is charmless or unenjoyable. It’s an easy one-and-a-half-hour watch that doesn’t drag or fail to entertain. It simply isn’t very original. With a better script containing the same basic plot elements, the movie could have delivered a whole lot more. Thank goodness it has a good selection of cars and some well-executed automotive action to spice things up.
In the end, I would give Black Cat Run six out of ten pistons, and tell you if it happens to come on TV late one night, you could do worse than watching it. Just don’t go into it expecting a magnum opus or something you haven’t seen before.